Developer: Backbone Entertainment
Release Date: Fall 2006
Wouldn't you know it? The people who loved the 2.5D action of Sonic Rush (which includes yours truly) are about to be thrown another bone: Sonic Rivals is coming to the PSP. For those wondering what it's like, picture non-stop servings of the two-player versus mode zone-races in Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Now imagine the aggression turned up a notch, and there you go.
Sonic, Shadow, Silver and Knuckles the Echidna will each be getting their own storylines, and will participate in one-on-one races through a number of levels in an effort to reach the goal first, and stop Dr. Eggman's plans of world domination. There will also be two-player wireless racing, which is tied to the game's rewards system. Said system features virtual trading cards that you win when playing offline, and can bet when racing others.
Sonic Rush had a serviceable graphics engine that was mainly a turbo-charged Sonic Advance. Rivals, on the other hand, features a brand-new engine, built from the ground up, which looks a lot like Sonic Heroes or even Sonic R turned on its side. The result is a clean, current-gen Sonic look that doesn't sacrifice clarity or playability.
Even with the robust graphics engine, there's no performance loss – the game's just as speedy as ever. On top of this, one of the high points is that the levels are long. We're talking nearly Sonic Heroes long, only this time, they're far more user-friendly due to their 2D-gameplay nature.
The build I played was very, very early – not even all of the animations were in. Still, it was easy to get a feel for the gameplay, and to see how they're going for a competitive spin on the Sonic racing formula. Much of the game's acrobatics revolve around leapfrogging, whether it be vaulting oneself up off of a nearby log, or catching up to rival racers and jumping off of them. The Boost technique from Sonic Rush makes a return in a limited fashion, allowing the player to streak forward for a small amount of time when conditions are right. Power-ups will also be scattered about the course, and their usage is context-sensitive – if you activate the fireball power-up when you're behind, you'll become a bursting fireball yourself. If you use it while in the lead, it'll become a fire shield to prevent harm, should the enemy try to overtake you. You'll be given plenty of opportunities to play dirty, and to win, you'll have to take them all.
Rivals's development is being handled by Backbone Entertainment, responsible for the decent Death Jr. on the PSP, and so far, it shows in the quality that even this early build contains. If you can't get enough of the old side-scrolling Sonic action (and honestly, who can?), or if you still feel just the slightest bit betrayed by Sonic Riders, feel free to pick this one up when it hits this fall, and tear up the tarmac.
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